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Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen

Overview

In this exhilarating archaeological adventure, Nicholas Clapp seeks the truth behind the legend of the Queen of Sheba. Ever since she swept into the court of King Solomon three thousand years ago, her story has been told and retold, often getting diluted, amended, and reworked along the way. In a quest to collect clues to the mystery of Sheba, Clapp travels to Ethiopia, Yemen, Israel, and even a village in France. Using the latest technology, including satellite images and carbon-14 dating, and some recent ...

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Sheba: Through the Desert in Search of the Legendary Queen

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Overview

In this exhilarating archaeological adventure, Nicholas Clapp seeks the truth behind the legend of the Queen of Sheba. Ever since she swept into the court of King Solomon three thousand years ago, her story has been told and retold, often getting diluted, amended, and reworked along the way. In a quest to collect clues to the mystery of Sheba, Clapp travels to Ethiopia, Yemen, Israel, and even a village in France. Using the latest technology, including satellite images and carbon-14 dating, and some recent archaeological discoveries, he pieces together the facts behind Sheba's multifaceted myth.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
A delightfully readable volume that's part travel journal, part Walter Mittyesque daydream, and part archeological adventure.
Los Angeles Times
His contagious enthusiasm blazes through his prose…a masterful storyteller…a modern Indiana Jones.
USA Today
Reads like a novel, and one can scarcely put it down.
Los Angeles Times
makes a significant contribution to the scholarly debate about whether the queen of Sheba existed.
Oregonian
Armchair travelers and those interested in the Middle East and biblical history could do no better than to pick-up [Sheba].
Providence Journal
Nicholas Clapp...has practically invented a new literary genre: call it 'scholarly adventure archaeology.'
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The legendary Queen of Sheba (known in the Islamic world as Balqis or Bilqis) is a fascinating and perplexing figure. She is the only woman of note in the Bible or Koran who wields political power. Yet the historical basis for the Queen of Sheba has never been clear. In this charming investigative account, filmmaker and archeology lecturer Clapp (The Road to Ulam) creatively seeks to unravel the myth and surprisingly, his search bears some fruit. Clapp brings readers on an unusual trip to the Middle East, including relatively obscure locations in Yemen and Ethiopia, where Sheba is still a living legend. Clapp's narrative is a combination of serious scholarly investigation, casual observation, travel account and personal diary. He is a genial travel companion with a good eye for detail, though he tends to sensationalize his subject matter. Many of his local informants speak in broken and grammatically incorrect English, which may be intended to convey the sense of the foreign, but it also belittles his well-meaning helpers. Fortunately, this aspect does not overshadow the overall contribution of this book. Utilizing recent archeological data, Clapp imaginatively reconstructs the life of Sheba and her visit to Solomon. In opposition to the biblical story, Clapp cleverly suggests that Sheba was in fact a far more powerful political figure than Solomon. The purpose of her visit, Clapp says, was not, as the Bible suggests, to test Solomon's wisdom but rather to engage in high-powered trade talks. Clapp is able to provide a solid, realistic insight into this intriguing figure. As he points out, the evidence is still scanty, but overall this is a well-written and informative book that will not disappoint. Illus. (Apr. 27) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Award-winning filmmaker and author of The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands (LJ 2/15/98), Clapp lives up to his "Indiana Jones" reputation, taking the reader on an exciting journey from Jerusalem to Syria and on to Ethiopia and Yemen in search of the "historical" Queen of Sheba. She is best known from the Old Testament, which recounts her visit to King Solomon. As Makeda, she appears in Ethiopia's national saga, the Kebra Negast, giving birth upon her return from Jerusalem to Menelik I, founder of the Solomonid dynasty of Axum. To the Arabs she was Bilqis, a queen of the incense lands of ancient Saba in what is now Yemen. Until the 1950s, Sabaean monuments and their inscriptions were thought to date to a period much later than the reign of Solomon. However, C-14 dating has subsequently rendered some contemporary with that era and established definite evidence for a Sabaean presence in Ethiopia. In addition to the historical queen, the author explores her role in legend, the Kabbalah, and European alchemy. An impressive 20-page bibliography is provided. Written as an archaeological adventure with the lay reader in mind, Sheba is recommended for all public libraries. (Index and photo insert not seen.) Edward K. Werner, St. Lucie Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Pierce, FL Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-According to two brief biblical accounts, the Queen of Sheba visited the court of King Solomon in 950 B.C.E., but if the story is true, "not a shred of extrabiblical evidence backed it up." Though history tells us nothing of the woman known only as Sheba, she persists as an icon of unique female power in all the religions that originated in the Middle East-and in the popular imagination. Clapp explores the lore surrounding Sheba and sets out to discover, if he can, the facts behind the legends. He follows clues in Jerusalem, Ethiopia, and Arabia, often visiting places not normally open to Westerners and archaeologists. In a dangerous region of Yemen he makes an important discovery and finds what seems a plausible solution to the historical puzzle: "Sheba" was actually the legendary Yemeni Queen Bilqis of the ancient kingdom of Saba, traveling to Jerusalem on a trade mission. (This theory accommodates a historical basis for Sheba's significance in Ethiopian culture as well.) This account is exciting, fast moving, and richly illustrated. The author's observant eye, pitch-perfect ear, and unfailing sense of humor carry readers along on an adventure he justifiably describes as both "harrowing and sublime." This title should please a wide variety of readers-even reluctant ones whose only interest in archaeology is through Indiana Jones.-Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"makes a significant contribution to the scholarly debate about whether the queen of Sheba existed." The Los Angeles Times

"charming investigative account...a combination of serious scholarly investigation, casual observation, travel account and personal diary." Publishers Weekly

"Nicholas Clapp...has practically invented a new literary genre: call it 'scholarly adventure archaeology.'" Providence Journal

"Armchair travelers and those interested in the Middle East and biblical history could do no better than to pick-up [Sheba]" The Oregonian

"A modern odyssey filled with adventure, danger, and scientific discovery." Midwest Book Review

"Written as an archaeological adventure with the lay reader in mind" Library Journal

"a satisfying, highly engaging book…" The Washington Post

"Clapp's self-deprecating wit, engaging manner, and enjoyment of anomaly aerate the morass of legend, myth and history…" Boston Globe

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618219261
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 6/20/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 402
  • Sales rank: 1,429,119
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas Clapp, a noted documentary filmmaker, has lectured on Ubar at Brown University, the University of California at Los Angeles, California Institute of Technology, the National Georgraphic Society, and the Goddard Space Center. Clapp currently lives in Los Angeles, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Prologue
On a sleet-streaked november afternoon I ducked into the New York Public Library, collapsed my umbrella—broken-spoked on the dash from the subway—sloshed up a grand marble staircase, and turned down a dark hallway leading to the Oriental Division. ("Oriental," in the nineteenth century's world-view, meant anything to the east of Greece, as in "We Three Kings of Orient Are . . .") In the hallway, the division's recent titles could be accessed on two computer terminals glowing green on a table to the right. To the left, shelves of black volumes recorded older entries, typed on antique machines and even handwritten. Both sources had pages of entries beginning: "Queen of . . ." Queen of Bubbles, Queen of Frogs. Queens of Sorrows, Spies, the Swamp, Tears, Tomorrow, the Universe, Rage, and Ruin. But on this damp day, one entry shone, the one I was looking for: the Queen of Sheba. Further crosschecking would pull up hundreds of entries bearing on her life—if she did ever live—and times. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but the pursuit of the queen of Sheba would take me from Canterbury Cathedral to a Czech alchemist's tower. I would venture to the Orient of old and to Jerusalem, the city where Sheba appeared before King Solomon, a city so at the crux of Western religion that it was long held to be the center of the world. Curiosity, that old cat-killer, would prod and beckon me on, through the cobbled streets of ancient caravansaries, through grassy green African highlands, across a stormy Strait of Tears, and into the trackless red sands of the Rub‘ al-Khali, the Empty Quarter of Arabia. The desert, I've found, is a good place for the curious, for even on a short walk you can expect the unexpected, a glimpse of something you've never seen before, be it an oddly striped caterpillar, a rare ghost flower or, as I once found in California's Mojave, a barely tarnished fighter plane abandoned since World War II. This really doesn't make sense. One imagines the surprises of the world of nature and of man to be hidden in remote alpine canyons and mist-shrouded jungles. And certainly such places have their share of the unexpected. But it's in the desert—open, apparently lifeless, with few places to conceal anything—where secrets, perhaps the best secrets, are to be found. Or may still lie buried. On again, off again, for a decade and more, I would seek Sheba in lands (like her?) exotic, sensuous, even sinister. Would the mists of her myth dissolve, and a real queen of a real country step forth? Or, upon investigation, might she prove to be Sheba, Queen of Illusion? I had no idea. But on a winter's day in New York, I scanned volume after worn volume and was warmed by the promise of adventure offered by Alexander Kinglake, a Victorian "traveling gent": There comes a time for not dancing quadrilles, not sitting in pews . . . and now my eyes would see the Splendor and Havoc of the East. May, 2000 Copyright © 2001 by Nicholas ClappPrologue
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Table of Contents

Map
Prologue 1
Pt. I In Which the Queen of Sheba Appears and Her Legend Unfolds
1 In the Monasteries of the East 5
2 I Kings 10 18
3 Songs of Sheba 20
4 The Desert Queen 29
5 With Eyes Shining As Stars 47
6 Touched By the Queen 60
Pt. II In Which we Seek Solomon and Sheba in the Holy Land
7 O Jerusalem! 79
8 Looking for Solomon 90
9 Zabibi and Samsi 109
Pt. III In a Desert Oasis, an Unexpected Sheba
10 Further Suspects 127
11 The Caliph's Command 130
Pt. IV In Which We Venture to a Land of Incense and Spices
12 To Far Arabia 143
13 A Trial of Ruins 161
14 City of Divine and Mysterious Pleasure 180
15 Chiseled in Stone 202
16 A Secret of the Sands 210
Pt. V A Journey Reveals the Power and Dominion of the Queen of Sheba
17 The Glory of Kings 221
18 The Holy City of Aksum 230
19 By Dhow from Djibouti 242
20 The Road to Sirwah 251
21 In the House of the South Wind 258
22 Sheba and Solomon 272
Epilogue: Sheba's Tomb 288
App. 1 The Names of Sheba 297
App. 2 Chronology of the Sabean (Sheban) State 299
App. 3 Demon Sheba 302
App. 4 Alchemical Sheba 309
Notes 314
Bibliography 337
Acknowledgments 357
Illustration Credits 360
Index 361
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    fascinating account

    Nicholas Clapp, noted for his work on Ubar, uses many of the same techniques to trace the Queen of Sheba, mentioned as a sort of groupie of King Solomon in the bible. Readers follow Mr. Clapp¿s adventures in Africa and the Middle East until he puts together the ¿history of Sheba¿. <P> SHEBA: THE QUEST FOR THE LEGENDARY QUEEN is a fascinating account in two ways. It is a modern odyssey filled with adventure, danger, and scientific discovery. It is also a brilliant look through the sands of time that humanizes a legendary figure of mythical proportions while providing further insight into Solomon. The book is well written and this reviewer plans to read the author¿s highly regarded THE ROAD TO UBAR. <P>Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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